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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

"Closest Thing to a Smoking Gun"; Malaysia Releases Investigative Report; Riot Police Dominated By Separatists

Aired May 1, 2014 - 16:30   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome back to THE LEAD.

Coming to you live from the Bush ranch here in Crawford, Texas, where earlier today, I sat down with former President George W. Bush, right before joining him and 16 wounded warriors on a vigorous mountain bike ride. If you missed the interview earlier, you can go to CNN.com/TheLead, to watch it.

Now, let's turn to some politics news. The allegations are flying fast. Today, the Obama administration is struggling to explain a newly released email that Republicans say is evidence the White House was trying in the thick of the 2012 presidential race to spin the attack on the U.S. compounds on Benghazi, as a spontaneous protest, and not as a terrorist plot.

The White House says the e-mail just shows what they've always said, that they were giving out the best information they had at the time.

CNN chief congressional correspondent Dana Bash has the details.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): New ammunition for Republicans and what they call a White House cover-up surrounding the 2012 deadly attack in Benghazi, Libya.

REP. DARRELL ISSA (R-CA), OVERSIGHT CMTE. CHAIRMAN: It is disturbing and, perhaps, criminal, that these documents -- that documents like these were hidden by the Obama administration from Congress and the public alike.

BASH: Newly released documents he's referring to, an e-mail from deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes, giving what the GOP calls political advice to then-U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice ahead of her now infamous round of Sunday interviews, where she suggested the Benghazi attack was spontaneous, sparked by an anti-Islam video, not a planned terror attack. Rhodes' e-mail urged Rice to underscore that these protests are not rooted in an internet video and not a broader failure of policy.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is the closest thing to a smoking gun I've seen.

BASH: Republicans call this proof the White House quashed the real reason for the attack, terrorism because that would have contradicted the president's tough on terrorism re-election message.

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: This was an e-mail trying to shake the story away from what would have been a damaging admission of failure of foreign policy seven weeks before an election.

BASH: Republicans also want to know why the e-mail was left out of documents from last year's subpoena. It's public now only through a freedom of information request from a conservative group. House Speaker John Boehner is demanding Secretary of State John Kerry testify about why this administration hid these documents and tell the American people what else is being concealed.

But the White House argues this Rhodes e-mail wasn't specifically about Benghazi, but broader regional issues and that a spirited White House briefing, the president spokesman dismissed Republican questions as political.

JAY CARNEY, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Hours after the attack, beginning with a statement by the Republican nominee for president, is an attempt by Republicans to politicize a tragedy.

BASH: Also on Capitol Hill, testimony from a retired general who served in the region during the Benghazi attack calling it a mistake not to scramble military help.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The point is we should have tried. As another saying goes, always move to the sound of the guns.

BASH: He was emotional on his commander's decision not to go in.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Individuals died. We obviously did not respond in time to get there.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Could we have?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The gentleman's time is expired. Go ahead.

BRIG. GENERAL ROBERT LOVELL, U.S. AIR FORCE (RETIRED): We may have been able to, but we'll never know.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BASH: Now, there was forceful push back to that from an unusual source, a Republican and an influential one, the GOP House Armed Services chairman. He released a statement saying, his committee has done dozens of interviews and has no evidence that the State Department delayed deploying military help to help U.S. citizens under fire in Benghazi. He criticized that general who testified today. He said he did not serve in a capacity that gave him reliable insight into operational options -- Jake.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Dana Bash, thank you very much. When we come back, a new report, finally released by Malaysia Airlines nearly two months after Flight 370 vanished. It's raising questions about the initial response. Why did it take four hours for an official rescue operation to be activated? Plus, the underwater search expands again. I'll ask the Australian ambassador to the U.S. about the next phase of the search. That's coming up, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. We're in Crawford, Texas, today as former President George W. Bush hosts his annual bike ride for wounded veterans. You can see the interview online at cnn.com/thelead. It ran earlier in the show.

Turning our "World Lead," Flight 370 and the 239 people on board. That plane disappeared almost two months ago. The Malaysian government is just now releasing the first report on the investigation into its disappearance. The disturbing headline, four hours passed before any rescue operation began, even as radar detected what officials thought was the plane hundreds of miles off course.

Our aviation correspondent, Rene Marsh, is taking a closer look at the time line for us.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

RENE MARSH, CNN AVIATION CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): A clearer version of the voice from the cockpit. At 12:41 a.m. March 8th, Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 took off from Kuala Lumpur. At 1:19 a.m. as the aircraft is leaving Malaysian air space, everything appeared normal.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Malaysian 370 contact Ho Chi Minh 120.9, good night.

PLANE: Good night Malaysian 370.

MARSH: But Flight 370 never made contact with Ho Chi Minh. Moments later at 1:21 a.m., the plane's transponder goes off, making it disappear from Malaysian and Vietnamese radar. Seventeen minutes passed at 1:38 a.m., Ho Chi Minh Center asks Kuala Lumpur controllers what happened to the plane. Air traffic control centers throughout the region and other planes try to make contact.

In apparent confusion, at 2:03, Malaysian Airlines reports the plane was in Cambodian air space, then at 2:35, north of Vietnam. Both reports, false. Precious time lost. At 5:30 a.m., four hours after disappearing from radar, the Rescue Coordination Center is activated.

MICHAEL KAY, CNN AVIATION ANALYST: Four hours is a long time. The quicker they can get search and rescue efforts out to the last-known point, and the quicker can they form a search around that last known point, which is absolutely key.

MARSH: Military radar tracked it turning and flying over the Malay Peninsula. The plane deemed friendly and the military radar operator did nothing, a sign civil aviation authorities and the military weren't communicating. In the air for more than seven hours, satellite connections continued to track the plane south. The final complete connection at 8:11 a.m. that leads investigators here, the Southern Indian Ocean where the plane could have gone down. Three predicted paths and crash sites, red the most likely. That's where the undersea search is focused. Rene Marsh, CNN, Washington.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

TAPPER: Rene Marsh, thank you so much. As the report brings up more questions about how exactly the plane was lost, the missions to find the plane continues. The Bluefin-21 which uses under water sonar has up until now focused on that area surrounding the location of a detected ping, possibly from the black box. But with no sign of the plane, the underwater search must move on to nearby areas where they hope to find evidence.

Australia's former aviation minister and ambassador to the U.S., Kim Beazley, joins me now to discuss. Mr. Ambassador, always good to see you. Thanks for joining us.

KIM BEAZLEY, AUSTRALIAN AMBASSADOR TO U.S.: Good to be here.

TAPPER: How will the search operation select new areas to focus on now that the detected pings led to nothing?

BEAZLEY: They have identified a box, using Australian terms, about 700 kilometers long and about 90 wide, which is roughly translates to about 400 by 50 miles. So that's so far I think they have done on the miniscule path of that. So they will bring in extra equipment that's in the process of being contracted. In the meantime, they are continuing when weather permits, with the Bluefin search.

But you got to remember, you know, when the Air France plane went down, people basically knew where it was. Searched for it for about two years and it was only about six miles from where the entry point was in the first instance identified. I suspect something similar will happen here.

TAPPER: Some in the search involving aircraft and surface searches have been sent home. Will we see further resources deployed for searching under water?

BEAZLEY: Yes, we will. The prime minister has made that quite clear. He's been in discussion with the Malaysians and the Chinese about it. But what they are looking at now is, in addition to what is there with the Bluefin, they're looking at acquiring a couple of other systems, which tow behind them the sideways looking sonar, which have the advantage of being monitored on the ship itself. So you get a sort of realtime vision of what your sensor is seeing.

So in these, it might actually be an easier thing to operate. These systems don't exist with the military. They exist with civilians. So the Australian government is going through the process of negotiating a deal, which was identified as costing something like $60 million. Costs are being discussed with the Malaysians and the Chinese. What he said was this. Irrespective of what they do, what the other governments do in relation to the cost, Australia will be making sure that search take place. TAPPER: Lastly, Sir, some have also criticized this report from the Malaysians as bare bones with other similar crashes resulting from much longer reports. Coming out much sooner after the crash, now should we be asking what's missing from this report?

BEAZLEY: Well, what's missing from this report is anything like a police investigation. I suppose it's the police investigation, which the relatives of the passengers have been most concerned with the sorts of questions that the police would be asking of associates of crew members and others involved in the system. It's not surprising that that's not in this report. That is a sort of formal criminal police investigation.

This report seems to reflect the bare bones character of the knowledge that we actually have. The knowledge that we have of the actual movements of the plane is pretty bare bones. We're lucky to have some fairly clever mathematicians and satellite operators having had a look at it, to have any idea at all where the plane is.

TAPPER: Ambassador Kim Beazley, thank you so much. We appreciate it as always.

When we come back, Russian President Vladimir Putin proving he's not backing down on Ukraine as he now demands that Ukrainian troops pull out of the eastern part of their own country.

Plus, which world leader holds a soft spot in George W. Bush's heart? The former president tells me about the one painting he had to fix because it wasn't kind enough to the subject.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. We are in Crawford, Texas, where I just sat down with former President George W. Bush. If you missed our interview from earlier in the show, go to cnn.com/thelead.

Now in our "World Lead," when the Ukrainian president said he lost control of Eastern Ukraine he wasn't kidding. Today, riot police firing tear gas and stun grenades, no match for the sticks and stones of pro-Russian protesters who just took over another government building near the border. If that wasn't embarrassing enough in a phone call with German Chancellor Angela Merkel today, Vladimir Putin demanded that the Ukrainians pull back their troops from the eastern region of their own country.

I want to go straight to Nick Paton Walsh near Slovyansk. Nick, this all sounds like madness. What just happened?

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, I think we're seeing a collapse of the central government's authority here in the east. That's absolutely certain and I'll have to say during the day here we've seen helicopters pass overhead where I'm standing. Even as some of the pro-Russian militant checkpoints on the outskirts of Slovyansk are pulling back. Those troops aren't particularly big, in evidence around here, we saw as you pointed out, violent clashes in the center of Donetsk, the prosecutor's general's office there, 26 people injured. Shots fired.

The police who tried to defend the building, humiliated, stripped of their gear by the protesters who were extraordinarily violent. The city of millions of people which is now being taken over, here in Slovyansk. I will show you now, Jake, a video we filmed nearby, one of the checkpoints we've gone through. You see a better equipped soldier.

We've noticed three or four of these turning up around checkpoints around Slovyansk. Beer hearing calls an seeing preparation for referendum in as many as ten days here in Donetsk about potentially joining Russia or Ukraine here. I think people are wondering quite how fast any annexation may happen if that is indeed the goal. Extraordinarily fast moving on the ground, Jake. Often as you saw in Donetsk today, extraordinarily violent.

TAPPER: Nick, very quickly, Ukraine just reinstated the draft. Even with conscription, does that country have any chance against the pro- Russian forces?

WALSH: No way, no, really. The conscription was written off a year ago, taken out of the law, taken out of Ukrainian society, brought back in, very much a desperate move. The president saying yes. Security forces in the east went up for the job. Some of the best people are here. Their army is in tatters, the most elite troops, surrendering at times, lacking in fuel. I don't think it will fix confrontation with the Russians -- Jake.

TAPPER: Nick Paton Walsh in Ukraine, stay safe, my friend.

Coming up next, he's stayed out of spotlight, but his artwork has kept him in the spotlight. Next, what President Bush shared with me about one of his favorite paintings.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

TAPPER: Welcome back THE LEAD. Here at the ranch in Crawford, Texas, of former President George W. Bush for his annual 100-kilometer bike ride with wounded warriors to bring attention to these heroes. We talked about the 2.5 million Americans who have served in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan as well as Ukraine, Vladimir Putin, his brother, Jeb's possible presidential prospects and more. You can see it all at cnn.com/thelead.

During another moment inside his office here, the former president talked with me about his new exhibit of portraits of world leaders. He's painted Putin and others. He told me he went back and repainted the eyes of German Chancellor Angela Merkel, making them softer because he likes her. Perhaps other world leaders he didn't care for as much.

I was here not to chat about the aesthetic choices he made on his Merkel canvas, but because he knows I cover a lot of veterans' issues. In fact, 16 wounded warriors are joining the commander in chief, including a U.S. Army officer who became the first female soldier to lose a limb in the Iraq war. Her determination has become an irresistible force for motivation for countless amputees. She joins me now. Such an honor, Lieutenant. Great to see you out there.

FIRST LT. MELISSA STOCKWELL, U.S. ARMY (RETIRED): Great. Fun time.

TAPPER: You did this ride in 2012, how did it go compared to 2012?

STOCKWELL: I did. In 2012, just like two years ago, we had a team, a camaraderie. It's Team Melissa. Any sort of hills they get me up, complete the ride safely and to be out here with these other wounded warriors and the president, it's pretty surreal.

TAPPER: You're an outstanding athlete. I took a couple spills on the bike ride today. I did do that. That's not fair because you're a Paralympian, a three-time world champion because one time wasn't enough.

STOCKWELL: Right, right, right, yes. In the sport of triathlon, yes. I'll try to keep up on the mountain bike.

TAPPER: Were you that athletic before you lost your leg?

STOCKWELL: I was a big gymnast when I was younger. I always considered myself an athlete. After I lost a leg, I wanted to get back into sports. Luckily there's organizes out there to help you do just that. Not long after I was skiing down mountains in could Colorado, doing the New York City marathon on a bike that you pedal with your arms.

TAPPER: So you're a better athlete now than you were before.

STOCKWELL: I've done more in my life with one leg than I would have done in two. I would say so, on the elite level, definitely.

TAPPER: You went to Boston and talked to some of the survivors of the bombing there. What did you tell them?

STOCKWELL: They're survivors. They have a spirit, like a lot of these veterans that are out here, these wounded soldiers. They have a traumatic incident that happened that you never expect. They can't give up, not only for themselves, to be able to get on in their everyday life but for America. All America's eyes are on them. They have incredible spirits that inspire myself, really inspire a lot of Americans. Just to believe in themselves and surround themselves with people that love and care about them because we all do. I think we saw a few weeks ago what they really are capable of. It's incredible the power of the human spirit.

TAPPER: Lastly, tell me about -- did you custom design this?

STOCKWELL: We're able to customize our legs with whatever patterns we want. I'm a very proud American, above the knee amputee. I like to show it off wherever I go. Remember those that gave the ultimate sacrifice.

TAPPER: Up here you have the Wounded Warrior Project.

STOCKWELL: Yes, I broadly serve on the board of directors. We like to honor and empower this generation of wounded veterans and get them back wherever they want to be.

TAPPER: It was an honor to have you kick my butt today.

STOCKWELL: Tomorrow. You'll be out there tomorrow.

TAPPER: I will not be out there tomorrow.

STOCKWELL: Save those falls for at time.

TAPPER: Otherwise, I'm sure I would be really good. That's it for THE LEAD. I am Jake Tapper. I turn you now over to Wolf Blitzer.